Knights Have Finally Arrived

Friendship Now Among Top Teams

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 2, 2008; Page E08

When Aazaar Abdul-Rahim started the football program at Friendship Collegiate Academy in 2003, friends told him he was wasting his time. It didn't take long for him to prove them right.

The Knights capped their inaugural winless season with a 46-6 loss to previously winless Cardozo. Just a week earlier, Cardozo had lost to Dunbar, 67-13.

"So I started off plenty of points down to Dunbar," said Abdul-Rahim, who graduated from Dunbar in 1994 and went on to play cornerback at San Diego State. "I'm thinking, 'Oh man, what am I getting into?' "

Five years later, Abdul-Rahim and Friendship Collegiate have erased that deficit. The Knights beat then-No. 4 Dunbar, the city's preeminent program, 34-30, in a come-from-behind thriller last Friday that might have given the Knights the legitimacy they have long craved.

"I always told the kids that we haven't beaten a team that we weren't supposed to beat," Abdul-Rahim said. "But now they finally did it. . . . It was like a championship for us."

Even with more than 1,300 students this year, Friendship, which is located on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast, lacks a home field, and Abdul-Rahim said he's not sure when the school will get one. The Knights will play their home games at either Eastern or Spingarn this season.

"I don't know what their deal is," said Good Counsel Coach Bob Milloy, "but, oh my God, do they have players."

Indeed, the Knights may have players, but they don't have much in the way of league oversight. Although Abdul-Rahim said Friendship's eligibility guidelines are exactly the same as D.C. Public Schools, FCA is not a member of the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association and cannot qualify for the Turkey Bowl, the city's public school championship.

"I don't think all charter schools put an emphasis on athletics," Abdul-Rahim said. "The problem is, we don't have a governing body who you submit your [players'] GPAs to."

The inclusion of charter school athletics in the mainstream has gathered steam the past couple of years as charter school enrollment has grown at an average rate of 13 percent annually. Figures aren't yet available for this school year, but last year, according to a report by the D.C. Council's Office of Policy Analysis, D.C. Public Schools enrollment, as of Oct. 5, 2007, was about 49,000, while the city's 56 public charter schools housed about 22,000 students. If the current growth rate continue, charter schools will have more students than DCPS by 2014.

"I don't care much about the Turkey Bowl anymore," Abdul-Rahim said. "I want to be the best team in the area. Can we beat DeMatha or Quince Orchard? That's what I want to try to do."

More tests to Friendship's validity will come over the next three weeks. This Friday, they visit Coolidge, which put up 639 yards of offense last week in a 36-34 victory over Gonzaga, before facing No. 3 Good Counsel and No. 2 DeMatha the next two weeks.

"I've got Coolidge on Friday," Abdul-Rahim said. "The celebration is over."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company